“We’ve tried to make specialty coffee as appealing and accessible as possible,” proclaims Russell Beard, fixing his gaze on the precise numbers displayed on a set of micro-scales that rest on the bench in front of him. “We haven’t attempted to redesign the practices behind specialty coffee,” he continues, grinding another half gram of coffee into a measuring cup. “We just wanted to offer new and varying coffees in a space that stimulates our customers’ enthusiasm.”
And no space could have better served he and business partner Nathan Borg’s purpose than this one. Reuben Hills is the cafe equivalent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Spanning the length between two parallel streets and occupying two floors filled with mystifying smells and extraordinary apparatuses, the sheer scale and exuberance of the space inspires a level of fascination normally reserved for theme parks or nightclubs. Its rustic brick walls, exposed rafters and concrete floors all resemble the converted remnants of a grungy warehouse, when in fact the exact opposite is true.
“You could say it was a de-renovation,” says Borg in a jovial tone. “This was all blue-carpeted offices before we started taking sledge hammers to it.
“We stripped back the entire building and created a blank canvas for the designers and us to play with,” he adds, referring to their design collaborators, award-winning architectural and design practice Herbert + Mason.
With such impressive design talent at the helm, Reuben Hills manages to make a spectacle of lo-fi architecture. It incorporates several design elements akin to the roastery/espresso bars of Melbourne and San Francisco, whilst reaching well beyond the creative design standards of conventional warehouse conversions. “The aim of our collaboration was a simple integration of style and functionality,” explains Beard. “We tried to throw our expertise together with H + M and see what came out the other end.”
The results weren’t limited to awe-inspiring design. “The layout is intended to involve customers in the entire process of producing specialty coffee,” says Borg. “Our focus was on complete transparency,” adds Beard, motioning towards a huge elliptical chasm cut out of the roof. The opening is one of two windows facing up into the second storey roastery and coffee lab from the cafe below.
“We’ve made a conscious effort to keep the roasting and grading process within plain view,” continues Borg. “It’s all about creating an immersive and informative space for customers. “The better we can educate everyone that steps through the door, the more appreciation we can expect for what we’re trying to achieve.”
But the popularity of Reuben Hills can be attributed to more than just clever architecture. Beard and Borg have devoted years to honing their craft and hand sourcing distinct coffees from over 14 Central and South American countries. “After I sold The Source, we devoted a lot of time to securing unique coffee,” says Beard, referencing the recent sale of his reputed cafe in Mosman, at which Borg was head roaster. “We established some invaluable connections that allow us to offer not only a good range of coffees, but some things you wont find anywhere else in Sydney”
Origins have influenced more than just coffee at Reuben Hills; the food draws inspiration from the boys’ culinary exploits throughout Central and South America too.
“Baleada is a tortilla filled with an array of fillings,” explains Russell. “Like everything else on the menu, it’s a dish we associate with a particular coffee region we’ve visited.”
A worthy monument to it namesake, Reuben Hills references the man responsible for first importing some of the world’s finest coffee into the United Sates. It seems only appropriate that he lend his name to a new generation of pioneers.